Disconnect For Educational Image Creators

Posted on 11/6/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Educational publishers are telling stock agencies and image creators that they need more and “better quality” still images. Despite declining prices many still photographers are continuing to try to improve on the images of educational subjects already in stock agencies. This may be a losing strategy for photographers.

Probably 10% to 15% of the total worldwide revenue generated from the licensing of stock photographs comes from educational publishers. Thus, it is a big market and publishers will continue to need imagery. But, what kind of imagery?

In October of 2012 October, Christie Silver of McGraw-Hill School Education Group said that more than 50% of the projects they were working on were designed for digital delivery.  Moreover, a McGraw-Hill executive has predicted that within 2 years 100% of their new products will be digital. Ken Carson, EVP and General Counsel of Cengage Learning said that 37.5% of their fiscal 2012 revenue, or about $750 million, resulted from the sale of digital products. Recently, at the PACA Annual Conference Kris Tibbetts of Cengage Learning said she doesn’t expect Cengage’s transition to go all-digital as fast as McGraw-Hill, but, “maybe in 5 years.”

Digital Future

While some still images will continue to be used in digital products the real demand will be for video. Most educational principles can be better explained with video than with still images or text.

What will be needed are short 1 to 3 minute videos that illustrate very narrowly focused teaching points. Much of life is about processes that happen over a period time from seconds to days. These movements need to be expressed in short videos. Grabbing a “decisive moment” out of such processes doesn’t fully explain what is happening. Videos will need motion, narration and sometimes natural sound to better explain the teaching point.

Personal Example

Recently, my 4-year-old grandson and I were eating pistachios. He asked, “Where to pistachios come from?" So we went to YouTube, searched for “harvesting pistachios” and saw, not only a pistachio tree, but the machine that harvests the nuts by shaking the tree. Then we decided to explore other types of harvesting. We learned that oranges are harvested with a machine that waves fiberglass rods at the branches. We could see exactly how it worked. In neither of these situations would still photos have adequately explained what was going on.

We also found different methods used to harvest cotton and strawberries. We switched to rice and discovered that in Louisiana, California, Japan and the Philippines four different machines and processes were used for harvesting rice. Still photos might have provided some idea of what was happening, but they wouldn’t have explained these processes as well as video.

One of my grandson’s questions was, “How did they make that machine?” We didn’t find the answer to that, but there is a potential need of videos that clearly show how every manufacturing process works. And how it might be done differently in one country from another.

One of the tricks will be to select the subject matter and edit the videos for appropriate age groups. A short video that takes the student through a lot of quick cuts in the manufacturing process of a car may be useful in helping elementary students understand how cars are made. A series of videos with a more detailed examination of various steps in the auto manufacturing process may be useful for high school and engineering students.

What’s Available?

In many cases the core of what’s needed is already online. The best quality videos seem to have been developed to sell products or services. Professionals were obviously employed to produce many of these videos. The existing footage may be all that’s needed, but someone will have to find the creator and license the rights for educational use. The footage will often need to be re-edited to remove the advertising pitch and target it toward students of a certain age.

I’ve also seen student produced educational videos of lab experiments that are terrible. What they are trying to demonstrate is important, but someone needs set up, light and apply professional production values to the process. There will be more work for video editors. In many cases, when someone is hired to shoot a commercial project there may now be more than one outlet for the footage created.

Questions For Publishers

Another issue will be how fast publishers will move from creating videos using still photos to using footage. Much of the current educational publishing process is based on finding the imagery they need at stock agencies and paying a fixed price regardless of what it cost to produce the imagery.

Initially, publishers may find it difficult to locate what they need in the stock footage libraries, because up to now there hasn’t been much demand for that type of footage. Many of the people who produce commercial videos may not offer clips from their videos for stock licensing. As a result the publishers may be forced to fall back on still imagery as the only visuals easily available for licensing. While less than satisfactory, it may be the best they can do.

Publishers like to avoid assignment shooting because the costs are much harder to control an assignments usually end up being more expensive than stock.

A problem that needs to be overcome is that publishers have no good way of giving a broad enough group of photographers/videographers and video editors enough advance warning of what they might like to see to allow them to go out and shoot the project on speculation. The normal process is for picture editors to do online searches or contact a stock agency when they need a particular subject. They usually need a quick turnaround. The agency checks its files to see whether they have it or not. If not, then they move onto the next request. Almost never is any videographer made aware of the request. So the image creator has no idea what needs to be created.

The creator, through his own efforts, may stumble upon a topic of interest, cover it to some extent and deliver the footage to the agency. When the next round of requests come through the agency may then have something to deliver.

Educational publishers need to examine their curriculum and identify core teaching points that might be better explained with videos than still photographs. They need to develop a list of what they will be looking for, not next week, but six months or a year ahead. Then they need to make that information available to image creators directly, not through distributors where the message may get lost. This could be accomplished simply by posting a list of subjects on the web that they may be looking for in the future (and hopefully provide a rough time frame as to when). In this way a broad group of photographers and videographer can be made aware of upcoming needs and where to focus their efforts.

A few videographers will choose to work on speculation on such projects even though there is no guarantee that what they produce will ever be licensed. The videographer can notify the publisher when he has something to show. There is still a great deal of risk for the videographer, but it is much less than shooting totally blind and having no idea whether the subject matter he decides to shoot will ever be of interest to any publisher.

All things considered there are probably more than enough still photos in agency files to satisfy the future needs of publishers. Someone may be able produce a slightly superior image to replace something that is already there, but such production is not likely to be a viable business. It is like building a better typewriter when everyone wants to use computers.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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